Chalmers St – Consulting

What is a Gemba Walk: A Quick Guide

A Gemba Walk is, at its most basic, a tour of the shop floor with a specific purpose in mind. Its origins come from the Japanese term “Gemba,” which translates to ‘the actual place.’ This phrase embodies where value-adding manufacturing takes place. Gemba walks are an opportunity for key stakeholders to gain valuable insights.

During a Gemba Walk, managers and employees work together to observe activities on the factory floor, analyzing for any waste or inefficiencies. They look for opportunities to improve productivity, production times, and product quality while identifying potential safety hazards. 

By gaining insights at the point of work, businesses can make meaningful changes that will help them become more productive and efficient. Gemba Walks also help managers foster better communication between staff members, build trust and camaraderie, and involve everyone in decision-making processes.

Gemba walk cartoon

Steps in a Gemba Walk

Gemba walks provide valuable insights and help to identify opportunities for improvement.

Conducting a Gemba walk begins by defining a clear purpose and scope. This helps ensure that all observations focus on areas critical to improving performance. From there, teams should determine who will participate in the walk, when it occurs, and what information they should collect during the observation.

Once these decisions are in order, teams can begin planning their route around the facility or operation site. 

Gemba Walk Checklist

During the walk, team members should:

  • Actively observe processes 
  • Talk with employees about their work practices and challenges
  • Ask questions, and note any issues or problems they encounter

All observations should be documented so that ideas for improvement can be discussed at headquarters or during future meetings with management teams. After the walk, teams should hold a debrief session to review all findings and capture any action items or next steps needed to improve operations. 

By following these steps, organizations can gain valuable insights into how their operations function in real-time. It helps make informed decisions about serving customers better and maximizing efficiency.

Choosing a Theme for a Gemba Walk

Choosing the theme of a Gemba walk is a vital first step. The theme is the foundation for the entire walk. It helps ensure the activity is focused on achieving specific goals. For example, if you are trying to identify and reduce errors in a production line, your chosen theme would likely focus on observing key points of potential failure in QC in production. Consider any one of the 8 wastes a potential Gemba Walk theme. 

It can also be helpful to look at historical data related to the topic you are considering for your Gemba walk. This will help you decide if it is worth delving deeper into the specific area or if further investigation may be necessary. Looking at historical trends can give you an idea of areas where improvements can be made or problems that need attention.

How to do a Gemba Walk

Once you have identified your goals, it’s time to develop an action plan and create a structured agenda. Begin by determining who will be involved in the walk. This should include key personnel from various departments or areas and the processes you will observe. Additionally, it may be helpful to bring in external experts such as consultants or industry veterans who can help identify areas of improvement through fresh perspectives and new ideas. Key personnel can provide additional insight and feedback during the observation phase. 

Once you know who will be involved and what will be observed, you can start planning the route for your Gemba walk. The route should cover all relevant processes and departments, allowing enough time at each stop for all participants to gather sufficient data and record any observations made during their tour of the Gemba. 

Make sure everyone participating in the Gemba walk can access all necessary material beforehand. This can include any maps or charts needed for navigation and information regarding each process being analyzed during the tour. This allows everyone involved to understand each procedure before they enter it. It also helps ensure that everyone stays on task throughout the observation period.

It’s usually helpful to allow extra time between stops so that questions can be asked and discussed without disrupting the tour flow.

Prepare the Team

  1. Explain the purpose of the Gemba walks to everyone involved. This should include an overview of what will be discussed and observed and any relevant background information about the process or product being examined.
  2. Assign roles to each participant. The leader should be knowledgeable about the process or product being studied and have a clear plan for directing the discussion. 
  3. Allocate time for everyone involved to review the notes and measurements taken by the observer during the Gemba walk and discuss their findings at the end of the wall.
  4. Provide personal protective equipment (PPE). Safety protocols must also be adhered to at all times. Employees should wear protective gear (e.g., hard hats and safety glasses) in areas where hazards are present. 

Team members must remain open-minded throughout the walk to gain meaningful insights from their observations. They should strive to remain neutral in their opinions to stay focused on facts rather than preconceived notions or biases.  

Set a Schedule

Setting a schedule for a Gemba walk can be done in several ways. The first step is to decide the duration of the walk. Generally, a Gemba walk should last between 15 minutes and an hour to remain manageable. Limiting the number of people who attend the walk is also beneficial, as fewer people will allow for more efficient communication.

The next step is to decide on a regular frequency for the walk. Depending on the size and complexity of your organization, set up bi-weekly walks. If the operations are too complex, you may need shorter, more frequent Gemba walks to address problems promptly and efficiently. 

Record and Share Observations with the Team

Recording and sharing observations of a Gemba walk with the team is vital to improving processes and ensuring success. With the proper methods, teams can accurately document their findings in a way that encourages collaboration and openness.

Create a standardized checklist that all team members can use during the walk. This ensures that everyone focuses on the same criteria. The checklist should include items such as: 

  • safety issues 
  • customer experience 
  • process accuracy and efficiency 
  • quality standards 
  • documentation practices 
  • and any other relevant areas depending on the manufacturing process

Team members should also be encouraged to take notes during the visit to record relevant information or observations. Utilize notes afterward to ensure all observations are recorded correctly for later review. 

Notes can provide additional context for any observations the checklist may not capture.

Once observations are recorded, it’s important to share these with the rest of the team as soon as possible. One way to do this is by creating a post-Gemba meeting where team members can discuss and review their findings together while they’re still fresh in their minds. 

All data collected during a Gemba walk should be documented in one place for easy access when needed. This could mean creating reports or visualizing data in charts if desired. By ensuring all relevant information is stored in one place and accessible to all stakeholders involved, teams can make better decisions about process improvements and ensure success in the future.

  • Create a timeline for the Gemba walk that includes breaks for discussion and reflection.
  • Ensure to capture relevant data points during the walk, including recording observations with photographs or video if necessary.
  • Once back in the office, review what was observed during the Gemba walk and discuss possible solutions or changes as a team.
  • Share findings from the Gemba walk with other stakeholders absent on tour.
  • Use identified key metrics to measure improvements made since conducting your original observations.
  • Use visuals such as flowcharts, graphs, maps, etc., to help share insights gained from observing processes in action.
  • Monitor the progress of improvement initiatives suggested by all team members after each Gemba Walk process.

We are Here to Help Implement Gemba Walks in Your Business

To boost communication, productivity, and organization between teams within your manufacturing operation, Chalmers St. Consulting offers a practical solution: Gemba walks. These designed specialized tours open a dialogue between employees and management which can revolutionize daily operations. To discover more about how we can help you unlock greater efficiency through this approach, contact our team for an initial consultation today.